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Research Research

     The DES faculty and graduate students are engaged in a wide variety of Earth Science research within the disciplines of Geography, Geology, Geophysics, and Archaeology. However, much of the research is concentrated within our principal research foci.  Research in these foci are carried out, in part, through cooperative work with the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI), the Groundwater Institute, the FedEx Institute of Technology, and the office of the U.S. Geological Survey, located on the main campus, as well as with other departments such as Biology, Chemistry, Anthropology, and Civil Engineering.

Research Focus Areas:

1. Hazards

2. Geophysics

3. Active Tectonic & Dynamic Geomorphology

4. Hydrology & Water Resources

5. Geoarchaeology & Quaternary Studies

6. Spatial & Community Analysis

Hazards (coordinator: Arleen Hill)

More than twenty DES faculty members and their graduate students do both applied and basic research related to the principal DES research-focus: Hazards. Their research is intertwined under the auspices of the Center for Hazard Analysis and Research at Memphis (CHARM) and CERI. CHARM is unique in the USA in the large number of diverse faculty devoted to research on all aspects of multi-hazard analysis. CHARM is capable of comprehensive integrated coverage of all important aspects of natural, environmental, and man-induced hazards from understanding the basic causes of hazards through application of multi-hazard-susceptibility analysis to different regions, to the catastrophic impact that hazards have on people through vulnerability and risk analysis, to hazard mitigation, to determination of the economic and policy impact of hazards.

Basic research in Geophysics related to earthquake-hazards is the principal function of DES faculty at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI). Faculty from all DES disciplines are also engaged in basic research on Active Tectonics & Orogenic Belts and Quaternary Studies & Geomorphology which also includes investigations related to landscape evolution, climate change, and paleoecology as well as those related to the causes of natural hazards such as active faults, landslides, flooding, drought, severe storms, and subsidence & karst development. Through the Hydrology & Water Resources focus, in cooperation with the Groundwater Institute and the U. S. Geological Survey, DES faculty examine both environmental hazards and other issues related to vital water resources. CHARM faculty apply basic hazard-research and Spatial Analysis to determine both the susceptibility of different regions to different types of hazards and to vulnerability and risk analysis, both fundamental tools for planning sustainable growth and development, particularly of urban areas, while protecting people from multi-hazards. New faculty members who join DES in 2003/04 academic year expand CHARM capabilities into vulnerability and risk analysis and also examine motivational behavior during emergencies, economic costs related to hazards, and policy issues related to multi-hazards.

Faculty who work on hazards include: Arleen Hill, Jerry Bartholomew, Jer-Ming Chiu, Randy Cox, Chris Cramer, Arch Johnston, Hsiang-Te Kung, Chuck Langston, Esra Ozdenerol, Chris Powell, Jose Pujol, Bob Smalley, Gregory Taff, Roy Van Arsdale, Mitch Withers.

Geophysics (coordinator: Chuck Langston)

The physical Earth system can be monitored, probed, examined, and mapped through a wide variety of quantitative observational and modeling techniques to deduce the present state of the Earth and its past history.  The Geophysics graduate focus group in the DES has strong ties with CERI and performs state-of-the-art research in Earthquake Science, Seismic Monitoring, Atmospheric and Earth Acoustics, Exploration Geophysics including a strong program in Reflection Seismology, Marine Seismology, Crustal Strain measurement and Geodynamics, Earthquake Hazards, Theoretical Seismology and Geophysics, Seismic Instrument Development, and Tomography.  Field projects are international in scope ranging from our own backyard with the New Madrid Seismic Zone, to the North American Plate boundaries, to Hawaii, South America, Central America, Asia, Africa, Antarctica, New Zealand on land and on the sea.

There is a wide variety of field equipment available for faculty and graduate research.  Facilities include a state-of-art earthquake monitoring network consisting of over 140 short-period and broad band seismic instruments located in the New Madrid and Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zones; an 11 station continuous GPS network; 24 channel and 48 channel digital refraction/reflection seismographs with vertical and horizontal component geophones, cables, and seismic sources; a portable magnetometer; 11 broadband CMG-6TD seismographs; 11 K2 strong motion accelerographs, surveying equipment; 2 portable gravimeters; and a variety of more specialize field equipment built for individual projects.  Computational facilities at CERI are extensive and include a graduate student PC lab and a dedicated SUN computer research laboratory that includes the full suite of Landmark Graphics seismic processing and interpretation software in addition to a general library of common seismological/geophysical software packages and compilers.  CERI also has a large technical staff that can help with field experiment deployments and building specialized instrumentation for graduate research.

The Geophysics graduate students are a close-knit group mainly housed at CERI who are encouraged to work on diverse, creative scientific projects with more than one faculty member throughout their graduate career.  Collegiality and cooperation are the norm with students helping each other with research problems, practice sessions for important presentations and graduate milestones, and an occasional game of ping-pong.  Publication of research results before graduation is strongly encouraged particularly for the PhD students.  Students are also encouraged to present their research at national meetings in their field.

Geophysics group faculty members include: Jer-Ming Chiu, Chris Cramer, Heather DeShon, Arch Johnston, Chuck Langston, Beatrice Magnani, Chris Powell, Jose Pujol, Bob Smalley, Mitch Withers.  In addition, the USGS has close ties with the Geophysics group through the USGS CERI Regional Office with adjunct faculty member Oliver Boyd.  There are also important research ties with faculty in Civil Engineering particularly in hydrology and earthquake engineering.

Active Tectonics & Dynamic Geomorphology (coordinator: Roy Van Arsdale)

Our faculty offer unique opportunities to students who are interested in tectonics related to active deformation and plate motions. Active tectonics projects are being conducted in the United States, South America, Australia, Antarctica, Central America, Caribbean islands, China, Africa, and India. A long standing area of focused research has been the New Madrid seismic zone of the central United States where DES student and faculty have conducted seismologic, seismic reflection, paleoseismologic, structural, and stratigraphic studies.

The geomorphic research focus centers around four general themes: tectonic, fluvial, arid, and hill slope processes and forms. Building from a foundation of these general areas, The research is international in scope and includes studies in China, Australia, Central America, the Caribbean, Malaysia, India, Taiwan, and numerous locations in the northeastern, southeastern, and western United States.

Faculty members and their graduate students who study tectonics and geomorphology within the Department of Earth Sciences take advantage of interdisciplinary research with the U.S. Geological Survey and other academic departments within the University of Memphis. Students can also participate in tectonic studies in classic orogenic belts such as the Appalachians, Cordilleran, Ouachitas or Grenville or within the cratonic interior of North America. Basin studies may be pursued using recently acquired Landmark Graphics software. This software is particularly suited for petroleum-related research, but is also being applied to earthquake and groundwater studies.

Faculty members involved in tectonic studies include: Roy Van Arsdale, Jerry Bartholomew, Jer-Ming Chiu, Randy Cox, Archibald Johnston, Hsiang-Te Kung, Charles Langston, Daniel Larsen, Jose Pujol, Chris Powell, Robert Smalley and Mitchell Withers.

Hydrology & Water Resources (coordinator: Dan Larsen)

The Department of Earth Sciences offers a focus in Hydrology that builds upon faculty strengths in the physical, biological and human aspects of the hydrologic cycle. Our specialties include modern and paleo- hydrogeology, landform evolution, wetland ecology, large river ecology, aqueous geochemistry, water resource management, hydrogeologic modeling and the impact of climate change on water resources. Our proximity to the Mississippi River contributes to our expertise in large river hydrology and enables international collaboration on water resource management and issues related to large river systems. The location of Memphis in the Mississippi embayment, with its exceptional high-quality aquifers, provides excellent urban and natural laboratories for hydrogeologic research, particularly given our close collaboration with the Groundwater Institute, housed in the Herff College of Engineering here at the University of Memphis. Faculty and researchers involved in the Hydrology focus also include members of the Biology Department, the US Geological Survey and the Center for Earthquake Research and Information.

Faculty who participate in Hydrology and Water Resources include: Dan Larsen, Jerry Anderson (GWI), Scott Franklin (Biology), Jack Grubaugh (Biology), Hsiang-Te Kung, Reza Pezeshki (Biology), George Swihart, Brian Waldron (GWI).

Geoarchaeology & Quaternary Studies (coordinator: David Dye)

Geoarchaeology interweaves geologic techniques, GIS, remote sensing, and geophysical techniques into Archaeology research. Quaternary studies branch out to investigate landscape evolution, climate change, paleoecology, and active tectonics over the last two million years. Research activities include field, laboratory, geographic information analysis, and modeling studies that focus on the timing, causes, and mechanisms of natural and anthropogenically forced climate change, and on the effects of past climate changes on the physical, biological, chemical, social, and economic conditions of the earth.  University of Memphis Archaeology programs outside of DES can be access through the Archaeology web page.

Faculty who participate in Geoarchaeology include: David Dye, Jerry Bartholomew, Randy Cox, Judson Finlay, Arch Johnston, Dan Larsen, Dave Lumsden, Andrew Mickelson, Esra Ozdenerol, Jose Pujol, George Swihart, Roy Van Arsdale.

Spatial and Community Analysis (coordinator: Esra Ozdenerol)

The Department of Earth Sciences offers a focus in Spatial Analysis that builds upon faculty strengths in research, education and applications development in geographic information science and its related technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS), Remote Sensing and Global Positioning System. DES faculty represents University of Memphis as lead delegate at University Consortium of Geographic Information Science (UCGIS) and explores advancing spatial theory and methods with the GIScience community throughout the nation.

The spatial analysis research focus teaches students GIScience applications and design as well as technical aspects of GIScience, including algorithms, data structures, spatial statistics and field techniques. Research focus areas in the Earth Sciences department- all provide fertile areas for the exploration of spatial analysis tools and theories. These research foci are supported by our Memphis Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (MCASA). In cooperation with the FEDEX Institute of Technology, DES faculty uses Memphis metropolitan area as well as national and international settings as a laboratory for their GIS related research.

Faculty who participate in Spatial Analysis include: Esra Ozdenerol, Arleen Hill, Hsiang-Te Kung, Andrew Mickelson, Gregory Taff, Roy Van Arsdale.


Field Excursions in Earth Sciences (ESCI 4701/6701), 2009, Wetumpka Impact Structure, Alabama



Students conducting detailed discharge measurements in South Dakota during Geology Field Camp, ESCI 4622.


Field projects for Soils and Soil Processes, 2008, ESCI 4122/6122

Field trip to Arkansas - Crowleys Ridge, Structural Geology, 2010, ESCI 3512

Field trip to Arkansas - lunch!, Structural Geology, 2010, ESCI 3512

Field trip to Arkansas - Ouachita Mountains, Structural Geology, 2010, ESCI 3512

Student conducting geologic field mapping, Fayette County, Tennessee, 2010

Students excavating fossils in Oligocene Brule Fm., South Dakota, 2010

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Last Updated: 6/19/13